Friday, May 30, 2008

Stop! ATV's


Sometimes you don't know how much you love something, until you see it threatened.
Last night I stopped an ATV, and a dirt bike, and the riders of such, with my bare hands. I just stood in the path as they came bombing down the hill. I didn't think, I didn't plan. I'm sure if I had, I would have wisely stepped aside. But this was my beloved Hollidge Tract under attack and I couldn't stand to let it go. I've seen what these things can do to wildlife habitat in a local field. They tear the earth apart in a single pass, and the scars they leave on the landscape take years, if not decades, to heal. They destroy habitat in a single afternoon, they travel in packs, they are loud and they smell bad. Once they establish themselves in an area, they are impossible to extirpate, as they are relentless in their pursuit of banal pleasure.
Hollidge Tract is conservation land and motorized vehicles of any kind are forbidden. Even as we heard them, we had the dogs running loose, and my husband sent a frisbee sailing through the trees thinking they were passing down a nearby road. It was only when I saw them, coming down the hill, that I realized their trespass was upon us. And then I acted, without thinking, blocking the path with my body, miming 'slow down' and my husband was right beside me. Wordless, we acted in tandem. Nothing needed discussion, we acted as one; the product of a twenty year (almost) marriage.
I'd love to tell you that they turned tail and left, but that is not the truth. We told them, loudly (it's impossible to argue quietly in the presence of these machines) "Stop! Go back. Leave now!" They argued back. They refused to turn about. Tempers flared, we argued more, stubborn in our posturing, while the machines growled gasoline and their riders faces turned hard and red. The ending was pure Hollywood (and you think they make this stuff up!). A shirtless dude came sauntering down the same hill, complete with Eastwood swagger, cell-phone in hand. "Hey, get out of here. You can't ride here." Finally, sufficiently out-numbered, they turned tail and ran, but not without digging up donuts of earth with their tires.
It was only later that I had the time to think about what had happened. That I'd been goaded to action without conscious control. I hadn't thought it through, and if I had, I surely would have stepped aside. So I don't know if I was brave or stupid, just pure reaction while my brain went on holiday.
Today, the scars of their passing remain. Evidence left behind as slashes of black earth, torn up grasses and broken flowers. This makes me sad.

Image: green, brown & white paper, with coloured pencil & graphite, collage, paper cut-out, photographed and digitally coloured

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Mind Your Pi! Watch Your Nicks!



I've now attended the second meeting of a local Book Arts Guild, where the old art of printing images and text is discussed and practiced. While I did printmaking in art college, that was a long time ago and mostly forgotten. Still, entering the guild hall (the basement of an historic public building) the atmosphere thick with the scents of oil & ink, is a little like coming home after a long absence. While the terminology tossed about was vaguely familiar, it will be awhile before I catch up. Printmakers speak a foreign language of archane terminology wherein the familiar takes on a whole other meanings. I'm pretty naive on this stuff (sure I'll laugh at all the misteaks in this post months later), but at least I know, while in a print shop, that furniture does not refer to the couch.

The last meeting was an impromptu show & tell night. Luckily, I had scraped up something the week before. See above for my show & tell.

It's a long way from finished. I carved into some hard grey stuff that was given to me so I can't tell you the name of it. It's slippery and solid, and it made my speedball carving tool seem dull. I want to go shopping for some linoleum that once warmed and rubbed in linseed oil carves like butter.

At this point in the carving, I like to get a 'proof'. That means we ink up the block of whatever; in this case, the unnamed grey stuff, but often block mounted linoleum or wood, or soft rubber, and make an impression on paper. In this case, newsprint. A proof helps me decide how to proceed with carving. Once I'm ready to 'go to press' (and how exciting is that!) it will be used either for bookmarks and/or bookplates. I speak in plural, because thats the idea in printing--one becomes many, unless its a limited edition, then its some.

I also learned and practiced how to set type, the original way! It consists of picking out individual letters, with genuine dangerous lead content, from a big unlabelled divided tray and lining them up on a metal ruler thingy (I hope I don't have to ask where the thingy is at the next meeting). You hold the ruler thingy (I can hear experienced printmakers laughing now) in your left hand, and you pick letters with your right hand, and your left thumb holds them in line. Letters have nicks that align away from you. You watch them to make sure your letters do not get placed upside down. I also learned the meaning of 'pi' but didn't make any. Pi refers to spilled type. Just imagine, you line up hundreds of letters in multiple rows and then oopsie, you trip and everything spills out across the floor. That's pi. Someone's type got pied by a passing purse. Just think, back when newspapers where born, all printing was done this way. 100 years ago, pi must have been synonymous with disaster.

Thereafter, we all got to enjoy the beautiful and artful signatures of Thomas. A signature, for those who don't know, is several (or just one) papers, folded and sewn together at the seam. Multiple signatures together, make a book. Well-bound books are still made of sewn signatures but in this day and age, we make do with disposable glue-bound books that fall apart at the seams.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Guitar Man


We live in a neighbourhood were weeds and flowers are given equal opportunity to run rampant with explosions of colour. No two homes are alike in size or colour or style and the human denizens are equally variable. Like the weeds and the flowers, some are more desirable than others. I would put Guitar Man in the latter category. On any warm or mild evening, you may hear him, sitting on his porch, plucking the strings of his spanish guitar. While I have only seen him from afar, my ears have often known the pleasure of his melodies. It drifts on the wind, weaves through the breeze and sometimes manages to cut through the surf of passing cars. When I hear it, I am bespelled, charmed by an earthly Orpheus, this unseen neighbour that lives across a river of pavement separated by a torrent of traffic.
Leaving gardening tools abandoned, we stand transfixed, my husband and I. Leaning on the hood of our car, we pretend to watch the sun go down, but in truth, we strain to listen to the siren song of his spanish guitar. Magic is wherever you find it.

Pencil sketch, digitally coloured.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Beautiful Things

Spring is here; everyday is different. I can't keep up. Last week, the deciduous trees were just pinking with colour and the dogwoods were bleeding red. All of nature was decked out in candy colours.
There is a field a few minutes walk from my home that is a haven to wildlife, though sadly much abused by ATV's and other motorized vehicles. While it is scarred by ever increasing circles of dust, there is still much beauty to behold. The contrast of the red and leafless dogwood with crayon green grass was the first thing to catch my eye. The second was the bobolink. Although it was distant, it was easilly identified as it was changed from all black, to mostly white as it turned its back to me. It sang a song that seemed to spill through the air like water, and that song had a great influence on the mood of my image. While I was thrilled with seeing a bobolink for the first time in my life (even if I had to squinch my eyes up and curse myself for not bringing binoculars), we were not yet done with beautiful things. I found a lively little grass snake sunning itself by the trail; it was feisty too, and made like a cobra when I my dog got too close. There was a pile of painted turtles that plopped back into their pond, two Canada geese perched on a half-submerged abandoned car, hundreds of trilliums in bloom, three big blue darners in mating flight (hmmm), and a cliff swallow buzzed overhead so close I could see the blue iridescence of its head. Closer to home, as in, just across the street from my house, a male osprey landed on a hydro pole to perch and eat a fish! Grackles cruised the sky, and walked the wires waiting for left-overs. I had my binoculars handy this time and had a full fifteen minutes to watch him dine. I could paint and draw for weeks on these sightings alone, but I'll likely be moving on to other things. Life moves fast.
PS. For local birders, you can probably see the bobolink if you drive to the 9th Line water tower, north of Bloomington Road and South of Musselmans Lake. Walk along the south perimeter of the big field and look north for the islands of dogwood and other lonely shrubs. I saw him in the same spot on separate occasions (the 2nd time with binoculars in hand) and heard another.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

What's in a name?


Would it be as beautiful if I told you it was Squirrel Corn? Dicentra Canadensis sounds much better, does it not? Whatever name you choose, this is one of the most beautiful spring wildflowers. Like most woodland blossoms, you need get down on hands and knees and peer directly at the tiny blooms to truely appreciate them. The flowers are all of 2cm long, and so delicate, their white petals appear translucent. The leaves make a pattern of blue-green lace hovering over the forest floor. If you see them today, they may be gone tomorrow.

These can be found in abundance, in the Hollidge Tract, York Regional Forest, part of the ORTA hiking trail. The best spot is on the south-east perimeter.

Pencil crayon on bristol.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

What lies beneath...

Maybe you've had one, maybe you haven't. If you're female, you probably will have one, or many, sooner or later.
It was a routine mammogram, but still, I scheduled it for early morning just to get it over with. They are not high on my list of fun things to do. Back home at my desk, I couldn't think of anything else. After scribbling aimlessly on the page, I finally gave in, and tackled the elephant in the room. My mammogram. This flesh belongs to me; I own it, I wear it, but I have no clue what all those mysterious lumpy bits that lie beneath the skin really are. I don't know if they are good bits, or bad bits. I once mistook a rib bone for a bad bump, so I understand the limitations of BSE. So I have to rely on the experts, those with plastic vise and the x-ray eyes to interpret things for me.
It's kinda like having someone check for scary monsters under your bed. They have the flashlight, and you're in the dark. They say they'll get back to you about what they found in a couple of weeks, meanwhile, you still have to sleep on that bed. I may be a nice bed, a plump bed, a comfy bed, but you're still stuck wondering what lurks in the darkness beneath.

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